The arrival of hurricanes

Hurricane Michael is not even a year behind us, and Florida is once more bracing for the impact of another storm.

In October of last year, Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle with a rage and wrath that will be documented in the books as one of the worst hurricanes in Florida’s history. As the first category 5 hurricane to strike the United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Michael isn’t – and shouldn’t be – easily forgotten. Especially for those who lived through it.

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When Michael struck, I was with my family in Gadsden County. It’s odd now, trying to recall the exact details of the day when Michael hit. It’s hard to tell what are exact memories, and what are recollections of the feelings (of concern, adrenaline and foreboding) that we all felt at that time.

I remember the constant watch we kept on the radar and the National Weather Service, trying to predict (as feebly as we might) how hard we would be battered.

When the storm got bad, we gathered in the hallway of my parent’s home, all of us together while my dad stood in the living room, watching the storm through the front door.

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I remember the way the ground started shaking, and above the roar of the hurricane, another rumble started up. I remember the way we all knew – all at once – that there was a tornado passing somewhere nearby. Amid a hurricane, it can be hard to tell where the tornado will hit. So we stayed in the hallway, sheltered there, feeling the ground shake and hearing the rumble grow – and then fade as the tornado either turned away or died. After the hurricane passed, after we surveyed the damage, we could see the trail of broken trees, snapped like matchsticks, where the tornado had gone through our own front yard. Across the street, half of the trees were snapped clean, bent over perfectly at the same exact height.

I remember the sound and feeling of a tree falling onto our house, hearing the wood of our ceiling’s rafters crack as it broke under the weight of the fallen tree.

After the storm winds died down and Hurricane Michael headed north, there was an odd otherworldliness while we surveyed the damage to our house and property. A tree protruded from our home’s roof, our shed lay crumbled by another. So many trees had fallen between our house and the road that you couldn’t see where our driveway once was. Later, as we walked the road in front of our home and checked on neighbors, we saw the electric lines tangled amongst standing and fallen trees, we saw acres of trees that had been completely flattened by the wind.

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The days that followed Hurricane Michael were an odd time. There was no electricity except for those with generators, and there was no water except for those who had stockpiled it. The days that followed Hurricane Michael were isolated – we had no idea how bad the damage was further out, and all we could do was team up with our neighbors to clear our road, our driveways and cut ourself free.

Eventually, the fire department was able to make their way through the tree-blocked roads, and finally, the world expanded past our little road as we helped others.

Locals with tractors and chainsaws paired together to clear the roads, volunteer firefighters pushed their way through the debris to check on elderly home-bound residents who were trapped in their homes.

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After Hurricane Michael, the government eventually came through to provide aid – The National Guard arrived, supplying food, water and tarps – but first, it was locals, the people, who helped themselves and then responded to help others.

As I write this, churning over the waters of the eastern peninsula of Florida, Hurricane Dorian grows.

Mid-last week, the National Hurricane Center said that Dorian was expected to be a major hurricane and their prophecy deemed true. Right now, Hurricane Dorian is screaming with the rage of 180-mph winds (a hurricane becomes a  Cat5 at 150. This places Dorian at one of the fastest hurricanes ever recorded).

Dorian has already made landfall in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. I recently watched eyewitness videos of Dorian on the islands and saw how the rain-filled wind whipped at the palm trees, trying to uproot them. Another video showed a street in the Bahamas fill with water in only seconds as Dorian bore down on the tropical island.

By the time he hits Florida, wherever it is that he eventually makes landfall, Dorian is expected to be a dangerous storm. What everyone once thought would be a possible Cat2 in the southern peninsula, is now a dangerous Cat5 with the ability to decimate and wipe out whole cities. The trajectory of this storm shows it making landfall anywhere between Florida to the Carolinas.

It’s too soon to really and truly know where Hurricane Dorian will hit or how hard that hit will be. So in this tightly-wound silence before the storm, in these last few days before impact, I offer up a prayer to all those who will stand directly in the path of this monster of wind and rain.

I know what it’s like, now, to live through a hurricane.

And I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Stay safe, Florida.

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All photography in this post belong to me and were taken in Greensboro, Fla. and Port St. Joe, Fla., following Hurricane Michael in 2018.
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